Following a healthy diet and lifestyle are good weapons in the fight against cardiovascular disease, and they're becoming easier to follow. A report from the American Heart Assn. (www.heart.org), Dallas, indicates the amount of products labeled vegetarian and vegan, which it says are better for the heart, are increasing in the market.
People with a low incidence of coronary heart disease tend to have low blood cholesterol levels and also tend to have diets not only low in total fat but relatively high in plant foods that contain dietary fiber, notes the FDA. This might be why global launches of vegetarian foods and beverage shot up 60 percent between 2011 and 2015, according to figures from Innova Market Insights.
Studies show vegetarians seem to have a lower risk of obesity, coronary heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes and some forms of cancer, the AMA adds. The caveat is that vegetarians and vegans often must find other sources of essential nutrients -- such as iron, magnesium, protein, omega 3 fatty acids, potassium and calcium – that are plentiful in animal foods, the association points out.
Beans, whole grains, soluble fiber and fish containing omega-3 fatty acids can lower the risk of stroke by keeping cholesterol from forming plaque buildup in the arteries, the AMA says. Oatmeal can lower plaque’s ability to form clots that can cause blockages. Whole-grain cereals (like Cheerios) can help reduce cholesterol, and foods containing potassium, calcium and magnesium can lower blood pressure, which can reduce strain on the blood vessels and inflammation.
Ingredients made from fiber- and protein-rich pulses provide nutrients and minerals like iron and zinc while also being good for the heart. Pulses can help lower cholesterol and control diabetes and hypertension (high blood pressure) − conditions that can lead to heart disease, says John Sievenpiper, associate professor in the department of nutritional sciences at the University of Toronto. Sievenpiper's research and review of studies also find that eating pulses can help in satiety and help people lose weight.
Ingredion (www.Ingredion.us.com), Westchester, Ill., which produces pulse proteins and flours, says pulses are "nutritional powerhouses," high in dietary fiber and protein and rich in micronutrients. Its Homecraft clean-tasting pulse flours and Vitessence pulse protein-based products can add protein and fiber to cereals and snacks, and are said to be more cost-effective than some animal-based proteins.
Yogurt is also getting the heart-smart green light. Studies reveal eating yogurt is linked to having healthy blood pressure and cholesterol levels. According to research noted by the National Center for Biotechnology Information, "Compared with nonconsumers, yogurt consumers appear to have better metabolic profile, such as a lower body mass index (BMI), waist circumference, levels of triglycerides, fasting glucose and insulin and blood pressure but higher HDL [good] cholesterol. When you weigh less, your heart stays healthier, because it doesn't need to work as hard to carry and nourish your body," the research notes. "The lower your weight, the lower your risk of heart disease."
Cutting the fat
A high LDL (low-density lipoprotein) cholesterol level in combination with a low HDL (high-density lipoprotein) cholesterol level increases the risk of heart disease. Unlike other dietary fats, trans fatty acids raise the "bad" LDLs and lower the "good" HDLs.
"The FDA’s action in June to eliminate trans fat will help prevent cardiovascular disease and save lives," points out AMA president Steven J. Stack. "We commend the FDA for its decision to remove partially hydrogenated oils (PHOs) by 2018. PHOs are the primary dietary source of artificial trans fat in processed foods."
Companies that make snacks, margarine and creamers, baked goods and refrigerated doughs have been eliminating PHOs and other trans-fats from their formulations for several years. ConAgra, for example, says it began removing trans fats from its microwave popcorn in 2013; Orville Redenbacher popcorn contains no trans fats per serving. General Mills, which owns Betty Crocker and Bisquick, says it labels more than 95 percent of its products as having 0g trans fat, and is eliminating trans fats from many other products.
Roger Lowe, spokesman for the Grocery Manufacturer’s Assn. (www.gmaonline.org), Washington, adds that the food industry has so far removed about 86 percent of artificial trans fat since 2003, with more reductions to come. "The industry has been responding," he says.
However, the cost to research and test new heart-smart ingredients and to reprint labels and repackage products hasn't been cheap; manufacturers can spend as much as $200,000 per product, estimates Roger Clemens, a pharmacology professor at University of Southern California. "The flaky texture of a croissant, or a pie crust are really expectations," he says. "It takes a lot of food science to understand the chemistry of those interactions to duplicate it without compromising the product," he says in a recent report.
Healthy fats such as omega-3, a long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acid containing alpha-linolenic acid, or ALA, have been shown to help fight heart disease and stroke. Omega-3 is being added to foods from margarine, breakfast cereals and cereal bars to peanut butter and functional drinks, though good amounts are available naturally in salmon, tuna and some plant foods, especially flax. Archer Daniels Midland (www.adm.com), Chicago, provides a new flaxseed oil rich in omega-3 ALA, says Julio Lopez, nutrition research and innovation manager.
Cargill (www.cargill.com), Wayzata, Minn., which makes high-oleic canola oil, says its market research on consumer perspectives of fat and oils in North America found that after sugar, fat is the most important ingredient consumers are watching for on food product labels. "Sixty-seven percent check for saturated fat in the products they buy," explains Mark Christiansen, managing director of Cargill Global Edible Oil Solutions – Global Specialties. "About 50 percent of all consumers are likely to purchase a product with a No Saturate claim." The company has lowered the saturated fat content in its specialty high-oleic canola oils, such as Clear Valley 65, available at 7 percent, and Christiansen says that sat fat amount in Clear Valley oil will be even lower.
Going with the grain
Food technologists are also finding that plant and whey proteins, fiber, bran and maltodextrins can replace trans fat in foods and beverages, sometimes adding a richer texture and bulk.
Grain Processing Corp. (www.grainprocessing.com), Muscatine, Iowa, has been developing fat replacement applications with its Maltrin maltodextrin, which is derived from carbohydrates such as corn, potato, wheat and tapioca. The product adds texture and bulk and provides a smooth, creamy mouthfeel without adding extra fat in baked goods, dairy products, salad dressings and sauces, spreads, frostings, fillings, processed meat, frozen desserts and extruded products and beverages. The company's TruBran corn bran has been demonstrated to add fiber in snacks, cereals, baked foods, nutrition bars, beverages, supplements and other foods.
Litesse polydextrose dietary fiber and fat replacer from DuPont/Danisco (www.danisco.com), St. Louis, is water-soluble and also acts as a bulking agent. The fiber can lower LDLs, reduce blood pressure and inflammation and control blood sugar levels. Tate & Lyle's Promitor soluble fiber helps maintain texture in sugar-reduced baked goods and offers several health benefits including promoting growth of "good" bacteria in the digestive system.
Natural oat fiber products from Grain Millers Inc., (www.grainmillers.com), Eden Prairie, Minn., have many uses in ready-to-eat cereals, bakery products, meat extenders and snacks, to name just a few. Soluble oat fiber in cereals, such as Kellogg's Kashi (www.kashi.com) Heart to Heart Honey Toasted Oats, is said to support healthy cholesterol and can promote healthy blood pressure.
ADM's CardioAid line of plant sterols provides heart health benefits through cholesterol reduction, says Lopez. "Both the FDA and the European Food Safety Authority have approved claims around the consumption of plant sterols and their effect in cholesterol reduction. We're working to help formulate plant sterols into products with heart-health benefits. Our Fibersol soluble fibers offer natural-source of vitamin E, and our line of functional extracts from fruits and veggies are rich in naturally present antioxidants that may also play a role in promoting heart health."
Salt has long been scrutinized as a contributor to hypertension. On that basis, too, the AMA applauded the FDA "for taking a major step toward reducing the amount of sodium added to the nation's food supply." But most sodium consumption comes from food processing, not the salt shaker or being naturally present in foods.
"Reducing overall sodium intake will help rein in high blood pressure and help prevent the devastating consequences of heart disease currently affecting millions of Americans," says AMA President Steven Stack. "With most dietary sodium added by food processors and restaurants, even highly-motivated individuals find it difficult to reduce their sodium intake. The [FDA's] voluntary guidelines are a blueprint for further action, but the onus is on the food industry to now take the necessary steps to reduce sodium in its products, and help us improve health outcomes for all Americans."
Sodium replacement usually involves one of four substitutes: potassium chloride (which usually necessitates taste modifiers or bitter blockers), blends of potassium chloride and sodium chloride, new forms of salt or the introduction other flavors – everything from monosodium glutamate to yeast extracts to the spices and citrus flavors in Mrs. Dash.
There has been a long line of potassium chloride products, including Nu-Tek Salt, LomaSalt from Dr. Paul Lohmann Inc., Potassium Chloride USP/FCC Granular from Morton and Premier from Cargill.
Nu-Tek, Dr. Paul Lohmann and Cargill also offer potassium chloride-sodium chloride blends.
Alberger flake salt and Soda-Lo from Tate & Lyle rely on the physical modification of salt crystal shapes to enhance sensation of saltiness.
Cargill's FlakeSelect line includes everything from potassium chloride-sodium chloride blends to special grinds of sea salt. Likewise, SaltTrim from ADM/Wild Flavors offers three solutions. Original SaltTrim is designed to work in conjunction with a customer’s own potassium chloride. SaltTrim Plus combines SaltTrim with the correct amount of potassium chloride to create the best possible formula for the product. A third option is Sea SaltTrim, which can reduce sodium content up to 45 percent with natural labeling options.
Sea salt is a popular choice for processors. It sounds natural, has a little less sodium than table salt and usually picks up valuable minerals from the water from which it's derived. ICL Performance Products provides Salona, a natural low-sodium sea salt derived from the Dead Sea in Israel. A&B Ingredients has Two Seas Sea Salt, harvested from the Dead Sea and the Red Sea.